Think about your best experiences as a customer.
You show up at your favorite hotel chain. Upon check-in, they inform you that they’ve already put two bottles of sparkling water in the refrigerator (because you don’t like still water), given you three keys (because you lose them often) and have a hold for a spa treatment (because they know you like to unwind at the end of your stay). All of the things you wanted, delivered before you’ve even opened your mouth.
Exceptional customer service and brand experiences are rooted in anticipation. The problem is, most businesses aren’t equipped to provide this type of excellence. Most aren’t even close – because they spend too much time reacting when they should be anticipating.
Brands have made a habit of reacting by making “personalisation” their focus for the past decade. Just saying that they “hyper-targeted” their customer made marketers feel sophisticated.
The truth is, personalisation is a myth.
When was the last time you received a message from a brand or business that felt personal? Ever gotten a “hyper-targeted ad” after having a conversation with a friend? We all have, and it’s bizarre.
What actually feels personal is when a brand anticipates your needs. There’s value in that. Instead of the traditional model of advertising by screaming messages and hoping customers click or buy, anticipation allows a brand to create ownable moments.
This is where the advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), that are happening every day, come into play. Companies have troves of data about customers’ activity and shopping habits. They’ve been rabidly collecting it but, generally, haven’t been effective at using it.
Along with hyper-targeting, the concept of “big data” has been another pervasive piece of jargon. Businesses have said: “Give us your information and we will give you a better experience.” Now AI can allow that to happen and we will see incredible disruptors to come.
Still, as businesses race to understand the implications of AI, they seem to be looking in the wrong direction. They are setting themselves up to fail, because most of the hype around AI has been about how it can replace jobs and create efficiencies. That will happen, but that’s just a small piece of the puzzle.
AI’s power and real opportunity is enabling businesses to make better decisions and anticipate customer needs. The businesses that invest in both their people and AI will grow exponentially compared to those that just use a common set of AI tools to cut headcount.
Digital platforms at their best meet peoples’ needs, wants or desires, typically centered around access. Access to travel to points ‘A’ to ‘B’ (Uber); access to information (The New York Times); access to groceries (Instacart); access to travel (Expedia); access to a product (Amazon). The engagements that typically win are the ones that remove friction to deliver the need.
AI can study your behaviors, actions and patterns and anticipate what you might want, in seconds. It also allows businesses to reduce the friction and pain points we all experience when we are trying to book a service or buy an item. The steps to getting what you want will simply fall away.
Behavior as prompt
Today, text-to-prompt is the de facto point of entry into the AI world. You type in information and generative AI responds. We are also seeing rapid advancements in image-to-prompt and even voice-to-prompt. Upload an image or say something, and the AI responds. These prompt-based inputs make it easy to understand the value of how AI can respond to a request.
But that is already putting too much burden on the user.
You’re already behind if you’re waiting for your customer to ask. Waiting for the request allows your competitor to act before you do. They’ve booked that spa appointment and delivered that sparkling water already.
Behavior is the ultimate prompt. The most successful businesses over the next five years will leverage AI to analyze past and current behaviors and create experiences that anticipate customer needs.
It’s a fundamental relationship change. Suggested products and services will be on point and customer service will be off the charts. Brands that create these customer experiences will, in turn, offer significant value.
Doing business at this moment requires a new mindset. Businesses need to be obsessed with what’s next. because the one thing we know with certainty is that tomorrow will be different. That’s why reacting to the changes of today is like reacting to yesterday.
It’s a pivotal moment to act. If your competition is already anticipating the ways AI will impact their business and their customers, they aren’t going to just beat you in the short term; they could devastate you in the long term.
Dan Gardner is cofounder of Code and Theory.